What Samantha Power Will Mean to the UN

By now you have probably heard that Susan Rice is headed to lead the National Security Council at the White House, and National Security Council advisor Samantha Power is headed to Turtle Bay.

Power will come to the job with a deep and nuanced understanding of how the UN works. Her latest book, Chasing the Flame, chronicled the life and death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top UN official who was killed when terrorists struck the UN Compound in Iraq in 2003. Since the publication of the book in 2008, Power has been a vocal advocate for the safety and security of UN humanitarian workers around the world.

This is a critically important issue that goes to the heart of the UN’s work around the world. The UN has become a preferred target of Jihadi organizations in South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. These attacks have imperiled the UN’s ability to deliver assistance to populations in need and are a major threat to the UN’s ability to perform some of its most important work.

The UN is now gearing up for a major mission in Mali where it will almost certainly come under direct assault from Jihadi groups in a way that I think could be unprecedented for the organization. Having a US Ambassador to the UN who consistently pushes for measures to decrease that threat could significantly boost the chances that the Mali mission might succeed; and could be game changing for the UN’s operations in much of the world.

On Syria, her influence could be lasting

Power is best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning tome A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, which was hugely influential in liberal foreign policy circles. The book argues that the institutions of US foreign policy failed to respond adequately to the big mass atrocity events since World War II.

She will represent the USA at a key institution of foreign policy — the Security Council– as it is in the midst of failing to adequately respond to the crisis in Syria. This is the largest mass atrocity event in the world today, and it is only getting worse. At the Security Council, she will have a front row view to diplomacy at the Security Council as it is stuck in a rut, with Russia abjectly opposed to the West’s view of Syria and vice-versa.

As of now, the Obama administration is not pursuing measures like a no fly zone that would legally require Security Council approval but would almost certainly face a Russian veto. That moment may yet come. And if the administration does decide to circumvent the Security Council, Samantha Power’s support for such a policy would be very influential to liberals who would otherwise chafe at the idea of pursuing intervention outside the formal strictures of international law.

The damage to the UN as an institution could be huge should one of its erstwhile strongest supporters abandon the Security Council in a time of stress. I suspect that Samantha Power has the foresight to pursue alternative policies that would prevent a coming clash at the Security Council.